Vusi lived with his Gogo {Granny in Xhosa ) in a dilapidated shack on a strip of land between the coastal bush and the dump. His shack, like all the others was made of corrugated iron and cardboard boxes. There was neither electricity nor sanitation in this informal settlement but there was the dump which kept them alive.

A dump is a horrible place. Everyday the municipal trucks deposit there mountains of garbage and the people scavenge in order to find food to eat or things to sell. The place stinks of sewage and rotten household waste, the air is thick with burnt plastic and dust, and yet the people stand there, among the heaps of rubbish, knee deep, and search and search. They are frantic to find something of value, be it bread or aluminum tin. They have to hurry for the bulldozers come in the afternoon to cover new deliveries with old earth. Then it's all over, unless there is something of value to be found in uncovered decomposed remains of old waste. 

Vusi was eight years old when he became a 'recycler'. He had to provide for his Gogo who was his only family. When she was younger, she was an excellent provider. She was very agile and strong. She used to climb up the rubbish heaps with ease and she could always find something of value to sell to the scrap yard. Vusi lost his mother when he was a baby. She died of dreaded illness called Aids. Granny brought him up on scraps of food from the dump, and milk from the sale of aluminum and copper bits found in the heaps of rubbish. Vusi was lucky. He did not get his mother's virus and suffered not of the illnesses caused by polluted water, putrid food and general filth. He was a sturdy little fellow. The dump was his play ground and since he could walk, he played there jumping on the black bags till they burst, or joining his friends in hide and seek games. Even then he always managed to find something to eat, a few chips, or a lucky packet with sweets, or a chicken wing from 'a 'doggie box'. He loved those surprise findings, and even then, he shared all with his granny.

Gogo's career as a recycler ended when she broke her hip. She had never recovered from her injury; .she became a cripple and could hardly walk. She was always in pain and it was up to Vusi to provide for both of them. Vusi took his job very seriously. He was always in time for the arrival of municipal trucks and he was one of the first to start the frantic treasure hunt .He was as quick and agile as a monkey and he could find things of real value. He often lost all to the bigger fellows, but he fought his battles bravely and never gave up. But this was not his only daily task He had to see to his grandmother, as well.

Grandmother was a cripple, but she was far from being a victim; somebody from the settlement gave her a pair of old crutches found in the dump. She tried them out, and found that she could use them. This prompted her to search for food in differ way. Every morning, as soon as Vusi left for the dump, she, too, left the shack. She walked slowly step by step, every step in agony of pain; she walked along a well-trodden path through bush, towards the Indian Ocean. Out there was a different world. The air was so pure and the scent from the sea made her giddy and happy to be alive. Step by step she walked on her crutches until she reached the Esplanade. She walked with greater ease because of the pavement, but by then, she was very tired, and looked for a place to rest. Sometimes she found a place on a bench, but more often on the pavement next to a restaurant or a hotel. The Esplanade was a busy place and many people knew her. She could always count on a few cents, a piece of bread or maybe a sweet or two.

The Esplanade stretched along the bay; and was nearly a kilometer long. She had to start walking back in the early afternoon to reach her home before dark. Vusi worried so much about her. She might have fallen again and got hurt, or, .be attacked by tsotsis (juvenile robbers} and robbed of her possessions. Vusi met her, many a time, half way, and they would return home together. He always had so much to tell her about his explorations on the dump, and she fed him with sweet bits that she saved for him.

One day Vusi came searching for her when she sat on the bench resting her legs. She was dozing a little in the warmth of the sun, and felt relaxed, and at peace with the world. Then he saw her grandson's panic stricken little face babbling about strangers who came to the dump, looking for children.. 'They want us to go to school, and they asked to see our parents, but we laughed. We haven't got parents, but when they asked again, I said, I've you, Gogo. Now, I'm scared. I don't want you to meet them' Gogo was alarmed but she tried not to show .it. 'I'll make a plan', she assured Vusi. 'Gogo always makes a plan'.But what plan could she make?

People from a private organization called 'Help Our Children', came to the dump again and again. One woman by the name of Beryl was especially insistent. She wanted Vusi to go to school. Her organization had ample funds to provide for street children who were bright, and not yet using drugs. She promised that he will be looked after, fed and given a place to stay. They would also send him to school and pay for it.

Every visit ended with Vusi's stubborn refusal, and Gogo's laments. How could she go against her own wishes? Maybe he was a child, but he was already a provider. .He had a job to do.

One day Beryl lost her temper and shouted at Gogo. 'You must force him to do it against his will .Some time you have to be cruel to be kind. You're denying him the better future .Do you want him to end up sniffing glue and getting drunk on methylated spirits. That's how they all end. These are people without education and without a goal in life. He is a bright boy, and he deserves better than to be saddled with you and worked in the dump.

Gogo cried a little and promised Beryl to do her best.

The next day she left the shack as usual, and headed towards the Ocean. The day was grey and windy, and she struggled walking against the wind, but somehow she thought it was right that the day was grey and her leg was as painful as hell.

She reached the Esplanade and found the opening in the wall leading to the beach. She did not know whether she would be able to walk in the sand but the sand was firm and it was quite easy. The beach was deserted. It was not a day for sun bathing or fishing. She walked slowly towards the waves lapping on the shore. She had never been so close to the water and did not know what to do next. The wind grew in strength. The Ocean became angry. Gogo walked into the waves, with her crutches still supporting her, but soon the waves became bigger and she lost her grip on the crutches in the moving sand. For a moment she stood there without crutches, suddenly a wave hit her and she collapsed in the water, beating the waves with her arms and crying for help.

The people who stopped their cars on the Esplanade saw a strange spectacle.
The. woman on crutches walked to the Ocean and was knocked down by the waves. It took a while before somebody decided to intervene and dragged the woman out of the water The woman, was unconscious, and it was necessary to pump the water out of her lungs. An ambulance was summoned and a crowd of onlookers swelled up considerably as they waited for the car to arrive. Then paramedics took charge of operation and soon the woman was placed on a stretcher and carried into the ambulance. The crowd dispersed as soon as the ambulance left the scene, and the beach was deserted again .The beach remained quiet that day because of gale force wind and later heavy rain'
Vusi's cries for his Gogo remained unanswered. Nobody knew what had happened to her. It seemed that she simply vanished, while walking along the Esplanade


'You have tried to opt out,' Beryl admonished the old lady.' Fortunately, your plan did not work out.'

They sat in the lounge of the old age home where Gogo was sent, after her recovery from drowning..

'I wanted Vusi to be free from me, so that he could go to school',said Gogo.
Beryl gently touched her hand. 'You should have more faith, my dear. God does not give us more responsibility than what we can endure. You tried to make a plan but He made a better one. Now you are safe in this house for old people, and Vusi has his young life back.'  


More by :  Ola de Sas

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